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Top 10: Best Children’s Books Featuring Life-Changing Teachers (ages 4-12)

Books for Kids About Teachers Who Change Lives

As we ease into the summer and reflect on the our children’s past school year, it is the teacher who makes the difference between a great year and a mediocre or worse year.  I am sure that I am not alone in sending up prayers to get particular teachers for my kids next year.  This list is an homage to the exceptional teachers everywhere who dedicate their lives to making a difference.  And they absolutely do!  One day, one of their students may even write about their exception teacher as in the case of  a few of the books selected below.

ps  Special thanks to the exceptional teachers I and my children have had.  You know who you are!

Honorable Mention

The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

After spending the summer with her artist grandmother, Trisha knows she wants to be an artist, too. She’s thrilled when her sketches get her into Miss Chew’s special art class at the high school. A substitute teacher tells her she’s wasting time on art when she should be studying – but fortunately, this is one battle that Miss Chew and Trisha are up for!

This true story shows just how important a teacher can be in a child’s life – and celebrates the power of art itself.

I love pretty much any book by Patricia Polacco and she shares her life, slice by slice, through her books. My kids and I knew that  her teacher Mr. Falker (see #10) helped her overcome her dyslexia to learn to read, and her principal, Mr. Lincoln, helped turn a bully around. It wasn’t until The Art of Miss Chin that we also learned how her art teacher played a formative role in her life. This picture book is a tribute to art, art teachers, and to teachers who change lives every day! I need to send a copy to my oldest’s now retired art teacher!

Dotty by Erica S. Perl

Ms. Raymond, Ida’s teacher, understands about imaginary pets because she has one herself!  Ida is very shy and her imaginary pet, Dotty, is a great source of comfort and companionship at school.  When her classmates outgrow their imaginary friends, Ida continues to bring Dotty to school every day.  When Ida gets teased about Dotty, Ms. Raymond knows just what to do.  Ida has a kindred spirit in Ms. Raymond that validates the importance of imagination!

10.  The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

Based on the true story of Agnes Sutterfield who came to the a remote village in Alaska in 1948 to teach in a one-room school house.  Her students could survive in the wilderness but most didn’t know how to read or write.  Her ability to connect with her students and create curriculum that they could relate to makes her a life-changing teacher!  In real life, one of her students becomes the firs Alaskan native to be accepted to Medical School in England.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

9.  My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, A Prairie Teacher by Jim Murphy [chapter book, ages 8-12]

This novel is set in the 1800’s in Broken Bow, Nebraska which is part of the wild, wild west.  Fourteen-year-old Sarah Jean Price must take over the one-room school-house where her father was hired to teach but dies unexpectedly. Written in a diary format, we read about Sarah’s challenges and her ultimate success as she develops into an exceptional teacher.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

8.  Yoko by Rosemary Wells

Mrs. Jenkins, Yoko’s teacher, is featured in many of the books in the Yoko and Friends series.  She is a wonderful teacher as shown in this book, where she must figure out a way to keep Yoko’s classmates from teasing her about her Japanese lunch.  Mrs. Jenkins is up to the task though it keeps her up late at night fretting until she thinks of a solution.  [picture book, ages 4-8]

7. The Secret School by Avi

14-year-old Ida fills in secretly when the teacher in their one-room school-house suddenly leaves and threatens closure of the school.  Ida has always wanted to be a teacher and she’s completely up to the arduous task.  This is one of my fourth grader’s favorite books of all time!  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

6.  Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard

When Miss Nelson is missing and the class is way behind in their work, a scary substitute teacher turns up to whip things into shape.  Children will love the surprise ending.  [picture book, ages 4-8]

5.  Don’t Say Ain’t by Irene Smalls

New York public schools were first integrated in 1957 and this picture book portrays the difficulty for exceptionally talented African-American children to bridge the two worlds of their advanced, integrated school with their colloquial inner city home.  Dana, the little girl in the story, is assisted in learning this precarious balancing act  from her teacher.  [picture book, ages 6-10]

4.  Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Mr. Slinger is such a wonderful teacher that everyone in his class wants to be a teacher when he or she grows up.  Especially Lily.  But when Lily brings in her new purple plastic purse and can’t follow the rules, she gets in trouble and is furious with Mr. Slinger.  The way Mr. Slinger handles this makes every parent want a “Mr. Slinger” to be our child’s teacher!  [picture book, ages 4-8]

3.  A Nickel,  A Trolley, A Treasure House by Sharon Reiss Baker

This is a true story about a young boy who is shown  a world of possibilities by his kind teacher. And to think opening up a world of possibilities takes only a nickel, a trolley and a treasure house.  And an exception teacher!  Don’t forget that part!  [picture book, ages 6-10]

2. Ida B.  … And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster and Possibly Save the World by Katherine Hannigan

Sometimes teachers can change lives in quiet ways such as by being exceptional listeners to their students as is the case with Ida B. who is reeling from her mother’s cancer, the abrupt change from being homeschooled to being back at public school, and the loss of some beloved trees. [chapter book, ages 8-10]

1. Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

This book is an homage to Polacco’s teacher who discovered her dyslexia and helped her to overcome it.  And this book would be the perfect gift to any amazing, life-changing teacher that we are fortunate to have in our lives.  [picture book, ages 6-12]

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To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.


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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

5 Comments

  1. Wow! What a great list! I have been looking for some books for my 8 year old who is a fantastic reader. I find it difficult to find challenging yet age appropriate ones. I think I hit the jackpot here! You are so right about a good teacher. Last year’s (2nd grade) big waste of time. I have much better hopes for this year with a proven teacher! Glad I found your site, have a great day!

  2. Maria

    I love Patricia Polacco, so much that I used to do an author study just so that I could make sure my students would be exposed to her. I would add to the list her newest, THE ART OF MISS CHEW, which is the story of the teacher who inspired her to follow her dream of drawing. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it!
    Maria recently posted…Building (literally!) a Home Library SystemMy Profile

  3. Sarah

    Where is Mathilda by Roald Dahl?

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